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CHAPTER XXXIII. Happy the man whose wish and care, A few paternal acres bound. Content to breathe his native air, On his own ground. Poi'E.

At the sight of his new visitors Mr. Bacon was as much overjoyed as Robin Aflect himself, and instantly mustered courage to decide against Robin’s departure. Turning to the factor and his worthy confederate, the minister, he said —‘I’ll consider the matter; I’ll consider it; but in the meantime Mr. Afleck will remain.’ As he said this, he and Robin advanced a few steps to meet their approaching friends, and left Messrs. M'Corkle and Smuggerly dumbfoundered. These worthies, finding themselves foiled for the time, and treated with as little consideration as they deserved, slunk off to renew their carouse, and concoct ulterior measures, while Stiffriggs and Mr. Duncanson received a hearty welcome to Auchterbardie. The student was exhausted by the journey, and much in need of refreshment and rest, and Robin, with the help of Neddie, was not long in making preparations to render him as comfortable as the ill-furnished condition of the house would admit. Mr, Bacon was soon on the most familiar and cordial terms with Stiffriggs, who began to perceive that the Laird, though an eccentric, flighty man, was by no means without a vein of good sense and right feeling. In fact, a revolution seemed taking place in Mr. Bacon’s ideas ; they now began to flow in a natural and healthy channel, and the effect on his whole appearance and demeanour was observable at a glance. Robin Afleck’s shrewd remarks on the neglected condition of his estate, and on the palpable bondage in which he was kept by M'Corkle, the factor, had sunk deep into his mind, for the found a response there in his own longsmothered convictions ; and now, with the example before him of honest Ringan Stimperton’s manly independent bearing, he became like a new man. His entire position appeared to him in a light in which he had never viewed it before, and with characteristic impetuosity of temper he resolved he would reform it altogether. While he sat with his guests revolving these thoughts in his mind, a heavy knock came to the door, and thepoorLaird’snew-born courage sank to his heels, for his habitual subjection to M'Corkle made him apprehend his re-appearance as a slave dreads the appearance of an angry taskmaster, He was, however, relieved when John Braiden, one of his humblest tenants, [was announced by Neddie as desiring to have a word with him. John was immediately requested to walk in, and kindly invited to take a seat among the company. The honest man was at first reluctant to comply, and felt uneasy in the presence of strangers, but by degrees his shyness melted under the genial influence of a frank reception. On his entrance he intended to demand a private audience of Mr. Bacon, but after finding himself among people who at first sight inspired him with confidence, who were likely to understand him better than the Laird, and to sympathise with him thoroughly, he discreetly preferred to state his case in open court before them all. He waited only for a hint to tell bis errand and then proceeded in homely phrase to say— ‘ I’m an auld tenant o’ yours, Mr. Bacon, and gude kens I’m but a puir ane, but I’m like to be puirer noo than ever, and an ootcast in my auld days.’ ‘ What is the matter, John ?’ inquired Mr. Bacon with concern. ‘ What is the matter ? Has any misfortune happened to vou ?

‘ Misfortune ! aye, a sair misfortuneD’ye no ken, sir, I’ve lost my farm ?’ ‘No, indeed, John; I never heard of it. How can that be ?’

‘Just as I jaloused, sir, it’s just as I jaloused. The deed has been dune oot o’ your kennin’, ’because ye talc nae tent o’ what^ une in your name on your ai- pro p erty .» ■ 'nd who has your farm been Ou,'to a man they ca’ M'Corkle.’ ‘ Is he -any connection of the factor’s ?’ . . ‘He’s just the factor himsel, sir; fient anither, better or waur.’ ‘ Ay, this is a curious business ; really very curious. I must have it inquired into.’ ‘ Aweel, sir, the mair ye inquire ye’ll find the mair to surprise ye.’ ‘ You don’t mean to say that M'Corkle has been taking any more of my farms into his own hand ?’

‘No exactly that, sir. He has nane besides, that I ken o’, but the Fat-holm which he aye keeps in his ain haund ; and what he pays for’t ye’ll ken yoursel’. But maist a’ the lave o’ your grun’ is held noo by freens 0’ his ain or o’ the minister’s. Look ye owre yer rent-roll whan ye please, and ye’ll find that maist a’ the tenants ye ha’e are M'Corkles or Smuggerlies. I’m just aboot the last auld tenant to the fore on the Auchterbardie estate; the vera last, I daur say, that’s nae kin to the factor or the minister, and no willing to snool to either the ane or the ither o’ them.’

‘Upon my word this is a state of things I can’t and won’t submit-to,’ said the Laird; and rising and walking through the room in a fever 01 excitement, he took a few turns and then added somewhat sternly— ‘ Why did you never tell me of these doings before ?’

4 Because, sir,’ answered John Braiden, timidly, ‘ as lang as the wrangs I had to suffer—and they ha’e been neither licht nor few—were onythmg short o’ ruination, I was obliged to thole them for fear o’ something waur; for nae tenant o’ yours was e’er kent to compleen against M'Corkle without being made to repent it. There was Boagholes, and Drumsheuchead, and Dykend a’ men wi’ families like mysel’, and a’ sober and weel doin’—they stood up against the hated body, and what made they o’t ? Ruin, ruin ; naething but black ruin ! As lang as I had onything to fear fae him, I was glad to keep a calm sough ; but that’s by. He has done his warst to rae|noo, and that raak’s me bauld to speak oot.’ ‘ But did you give him no provocation ? ’ ‘ Provocation ? Ay, plenty o’ that, it seems, his way o’ judgin’; but nane justly, if I'm no a slave, and ha’e ony jicht to think for mysel’. He cam’ to

me alang wi’ Mr. Smuggerly—they’re never separate, but continually prowlin’ aboot like a couple o’ hounds as they are, and the de’il hunts wi’ them, or I’m mista’en—to get me to sign a petition in favor o’ Lord Aberdeen’s Bill anent Kirk affairs. Noo I kenn’d naething aboot the Bill, and wantit naething ado wi’t when I saw wha was drivin’ to get it pass’d; so I just refused aff aloof. That was a’ my faut, sir—at least a’ that e’er I had ony guess o’. M'Corkle warned me I wad repent it; and if I dinna, it’s no but that he has made the punishment heavy eneuch.’ ‘ Gentlemen,’ said Mr. Bacon, turning to his guests, ‘I am ashamed—deeply ashamed—of this. You must think I have been acting a very silly part in permitting such iniquities to be perpetrated by anyone acting in my name. And so I have—there’s no denying it. But I will put an end to them. I will henceforth look into myown affairs, and take personal cognisance of the treatment which my tenants receive otherwise I should be unworthy of a landlord’s privileges.’ ‘ Your resolution is noble,’ said the student; ‘and I hope you will begin to act on it by doing justice yet to Mr. Braiden.’

‘Of course, Mr. Duncanson —of course,’ replied the Laird, ‘ I am determined he shall have justice; but upon my word I don’t know well how or where to begin. I have been used to leave everything so much to M‘Corkle, that I have no experience of business matters. I am afraid, therefore, I must consult him before I can learn in what way this oppressive transaction can be cancelled or compensated.’ When poor John Braiden heard this lame and impotent conclusion, he turned up his eyes in despair; but he was instantly relieved by the impression it made on the rest of the company. Stiffriggs, who had been sitting previously with his eyes flashing indignation and his teeth clenched, now turned to him with a beaming countenance, and shaking him warmly by the hand, said, *lf Mr. Bacon likes to tak’ my advice, I’ll let him see a way of settin’ you richt withoot ever consultin’ M'Corkle.’

‘ Ay, to be shure ! ’ exclaimed Robin Afleck, without reserve or hesitation — ‘to be shure. Consult M‘Corkle! Consult Sauten rather ! ’

‘ Well, then, Mr. Stimperton,’ said the Laird, addressing Stiffriggs, * what do you think can be done ? Can John be kept in possession of—what’s this you call it, John ? ’ ‘ The Baregang, sir,’ replied John., ‘Ay, the Baregang. Can’John be kept in possession of the Baregang, even suppose M'Corkle should have drawn out a lease of it in favour of himself?’

‘ Certainly, sir,’ answered Stiffriggs ; ‘ If sae be your pleesure, for there’s nae lease o’ your grun’ can baud withoot it be signed by you, unless ye like yoursel’. But I’m hauf-thinkin’ there may be a better way o’ settlin’ the matter. It seems M'Corkle bauds anither farm they ca’ the Fat-holm. Is’t as gude as the Baregang ! ’ “ It’s worth ten o’t,’ exclaimed John Braiden.

‘ls his lease maist oot?’ inquired Stiffriggs. ‘Why, the fact is,’ answered 'Mr. Bacon, “I am not aware; but J,ohn will know perbapsy ‘Yes,’said John, ‘the rinnin’ lease o’ the Fat-holm is just oot at the next term, the same as mine; but maybe the crafty sneckdrawer may ha’e anither drawn oot to keep his grip firm.* ‘ That’s o’ no nae consequemce,’ answered Ringan, ‘ the Lalvd hasna signed it,’ ‘ Me,’ exclaimed Mr. Bacon, ‘it is impossible. I never signed a lease in my life. IM'Corkle never asked me.’ ‘ Wee), that’s just eneuch. For my pairt I think it’s no richt for a factor to farm a single acre hirnsel’. He should ha’fe nae job in haund but lookin’ after tb.e estate.. Still, whether M‘Corkle happen to contirme factor or no, I wad propose, Mir. Bacon, that _ you should let him ).ia’e the Baregang if he likes, but onl.y on condition that he shall pay th e same rent that John Braiden has been payin’ for’t, and that John should get the next tack of the Fat-holm at M'Corkle’s present rent. That wad be but even-haunded justice.,’' ‘Tc shall be done, Mr. Stimperton ; it shall be done,’ replied the Laird in au ecstacy of delight at the proposal. (To be continued—commenced on July 26.)

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THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 170, 19 October 1880

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THE CHIMNEY CORNER. Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 170, 19 October 1880

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